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Is It Wednesday Yet?
29 January 2008

29 January 2008 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always the comics you're about to read about won't be released until tomorrow (30 January 2008), so these reviews are free of spoilers and should help inform your purchases on new comic book day.

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Avengers: The Initiative #9
Writers: Dan Slott and Chris Gage
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Colorist: Daniele Rudoni
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Stefano Caselli

Review: Dan Toland
Previously in Avengers: The Initiative, MVP was killed in a training exercise. It's cool, though; they've got more in the back.

Okay, the first thing that hits you as soon as you look at the issue, before you even open the book, is the Taskmaster. I loves me some Taskmaster. This fact, all by itself, means I'm probably not giving this book a skip, even if the issue were 32 pages of Speedball learning to play the oboe. (It's not, though. Good thing, because I acknowledge that would be kind of hard to justify.) With the Gauntlet currently in a coma, the Taskmaster has been sent by the government to train the younglings, and, in so doing, shave some time off his prison sentence, as they do from time to time (RE: Captain America circa 1987).

The main thrust of the issue is that in addition to the original MVP and the four clones of MVP that we already know about, Baron von Blitzschlag (written in the Roy Thomas / Chris Claremont school of German stereotypes; lots of "Vas?" und "Ja," but no one gets called "schweinhund" this month) has rustled up someone else who looks an awful lot like Michael Van Patrick. Henry Pym, who really ought to know better, slaps some alien tech on him, which causes him to go completely berserk and rampage through Camp Hammond.

I generally like Dan Slott. He mostly excels in situations in which he can use humor; I liked his work on The Thing quite a bit, and his run on She-Hulk was usually somewhat entertaining. And Spider-Man / Human Torch: I'm With Stupid is on my short list for Best Thing Ever. Not just comics, but anything. Ever.

Avengers: The Initiative, however, is part of the post-Civil War state of affairs, and goofy fun is generally not on the agenda. I'm not sure he was the best choice for this book. He gets some good lines in via the Taskmaster, but on the whole this is pretty grim. And if this is any indication, grim isn't Slott's forte. It's not bad, but it's not fantastic, either.

The art is serviceable, but nothing outstanding. It's showing some influences from animation, especially the recent spate of Marvel DVDs. The female characters all have the same face; I can only tell them apart because of hair color and costume.

This book is quite graphic. This is rated T+, but between the violence and some rear male nudity, I would actually call it closer to borderline Parental Advisory. My son is 12, and I probably wouldn't let him read this. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

I can't accuse the creators of wasting any time here; I'm hesitant to say too much, because I don't want to get into spoiler territory, but stuff is definitely going on in this issue. I get the impression that this comic is building to something pretty big — a huge shakeup, followed by a status quo, feels like it's in the mail. Flip through this in the store: whether you want to wait until the debris clears after this storyline is over, or pick this up now and watch the chaos happen is up to you.

Daredevil #104
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta, Tom Palmer and Stefano Gaudiano
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Marco Djurdjevic

Review: Dan Toland
An unfortunate economic reality of comics today is that the real money is to be made in the eventual release of a trade paperback which compiles a certain number of monthly issues. This can lead to a very satisfying story once all the issues are together, as it encourages a deeper, longer storyline which can be told at a more leisurely pace than a 32-page comic would ordinarily be able to accommodate.

However, this also means that stories can get written expressly with the trade in mind, almost ignoring the audience for monthly floppies that still wants to plunk down their $2.99 and get some semblance of a story.

With that in mind, the story so far: Mister Fear is turning Hell's Kitchen into his personal hobby. He's drugged Matt's wife, Milla, which flipped her right the hell out and sent her into a rampage that wound up killing someone. She gets to stay home, though. Mister Fear assumes correctly that Daredevil's going to want a word with him, and goes into hiding.

First off, the writing is what I expect from Ed Brubaker. The man knows his hard-boiled crime stories, and, like Frank Miller 25 years ago, has a perfect vehicle for this kind of story, even though a guy in red spandex happens to be the main character.

And said guy in red spandex is coming totally unglued. This is probably the most brutally I've personally ever seen Matt Murdock behave. If you've ever wanted to see Daredevil use a blowtorch on someone, then this is the issue you've been waiting for. Why? Search me. He is beyond pissed about something, though. Admittedly, he's got his hands full, what with Mr. Fear and the Hood and Milla Donovan and Lily Lucca all coming together in various plot threads that I have to assume were started four issues ago. This is just a fragment of a story. Now, to be fair, it's a well-written fragment of a story, that is as compelling as it can be — without having a beginning.

There are four artists credited, which always makes me nervous, but I like the result. It's just a touch cartoony, stylized, and clean, with excellent use of light and shadows; it's a great touch that gives the book the noir feel the writing needs.

When I can read all six issues in one sitting, I have no doubt that this will be a really good story. I'm not here to review 16.67% of the "Without Fear" trade paperback, however; I'm reviewing a single issue of Daredevil that happens to feel like what it is: part five of six. And on that basis, I have to advise that you flip though this one, and wait until you can read the whole thing.

MidKnight #2
Writer: Paul Ens
Artist: Tom Hodges
Colorist: L. Jamal Walton
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover: Tom Hodges

Review: drqshadow
Set in modern Philadelphia, MidKnight is the story of a married pair of costumed crime fighters, David and Tarilyn D'ville — also known as MidKnight and Knightingale. Recently, times have been tough on the couple: crime is up, and their day jobs as an ER medic and assistant DA, respectively, aren't doing them any favors. They're exhausted, and as fate would have it, armed assailants have chosen this moment to invade the waiting room at David's hospital.

Paul Ens's writing is tame and totally lacking in depth or substance. What was evidently a cliffhanger at the end of last month's issue is taken care of in a single page here and then dismissed. David and Trilyn casually abandon their day jobs in favor of spandex-clad adventures at the first sign of trouble, although it had just been stressed how busy they both were. Ens sets up a small handful of conflicts for the pair to navigate, and I have no idea how they got through any of them. They'll stumble into what seems like a corner, and then suddenly they're out of trouble and moving to the next situation. It's awful writing, and seems like it was pieced together in about three hours. How did Tarilyn excuse herself from her meeting with the mayor's daughter? How did David explain his midday absence to his superiors? Better yet, why did he just so happen to have a gas mask with him at the hospital? Don't look to the story for any answers.

This reads more like a parody of a comic than a serious effort to add to the genre. It never takes itself seriously, so how can the reader? Ens sends the heroes randomly through the city, forgetting about what happened on the previous panel and introducing new faces at every turn. While most of the cast may be wearing different faces and alternating wardrobes, they speak with a common voice and have next to no personality. Nothing I saw made me hope that MidKnight and Knightingale would emerge victorious; I was just counting the pages until it was over.

Artist Tom Hodges has a crisp, clean style that's reminiscent of Bruce Timm, but it's very loose and lacking in polish. Some panels are so under-detailed and poorly illustrated that they felt like bad amateur work. Hodges pays no special attention to his backgrounds, which are generally left very bland and vacant, and the book's colors do him no favors there, usually painting the scene with a weak gradient if anything. The artist does have a knack for gracing the characters with a flavor and personality that makes them easy to identify, which is much easier said than done, but largely I found his artwork to be very lacking and unrefined..

The writing is passive and lacking of consequence, with disposable characterization and nothing to say. The artwork is passable in a few sporadic instances, but largely intolerable. Skip it without a second thought.

Mighty Avengers #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inkers: Danny Miki, Allen Martinez and Victor Olazaba
Colorists: Justin Ponsor and Stephane Peru
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Mark Bagley

Review: Tim Glancy
I assume it is safe to say that most of the people who read Mighty Avengers also read New Avengers. Not all, mind you, but most. Therefore, it is safe to assume that most people who would read this book already know the outcome to the symbiotic attack that takes place in this issue. I assume this because the outcome and perpetrator have already been revealed in New Avengers — a few months ago, that is.

So if you read New Avengers, why read this issue of Mighty Avengers?

I think this is a question Marvel needs to examine, because more and more fans are starting to notice delays. No matter the solution — finishing storylines way in advance, using fill-in talent, banking stories for rainy days — no one's happy. But no matter how many people complain or how long the hot books are delayed, they will continue to rule the sales chart. For instance, Onslaught Reborn #5 was delayed for months upon months, yet I couldn't find one after it was released because everyone wanted a copy. Richard Donner's issues of Action Comics sold monstrously, and All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder continues to sell well. Sure, there are books that will suffer for delays, but those don't have the top creative teams people are willing to wait and pay for. Due to that, we'll continue to see delays because, no matter what, these books will continue to out sell everything else.

The sad thing is, at least in this case, this creative team isn't responsible for the delay. If anything, this book is being put together by one of the most consistent creative teams in recent history. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley produced 110 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man in record time (meaning, no delays), so don't blame them. Point the finger at previous MA artist Frank Cho. I just hope the previous delays don't sour people on Mark Bagley's swan song with the company. It goes without saying that the art in this book is topnotch; as Bagley has proven over the years, he's the picture of consistency.

When it comes to Bendis, personally, I love his work. I buy almost any book bearing his name, and Mighty Avengers is no exception. This reads like Bendis' love letter to classic super hero teams, but with his own unique spin to it. The best part of Bendis' work on MA has been the elevation of Ares. In just seven issues he's become a fan favorite, and the credit easily falls on Bendis. However, no matter how good Mighty Avengers is or how Bendis handles Ares, this issue isn't going to change your opinion of the writer. For whatever reason, he's too polarizing.

So, my crazy rant about delays aside, I love this book and think it is really good. However, you should only buy it if you are collecting Mighty Avengers or don't read New Avengers — because if you read New Avengers, there's nothing new here. In that case, borrow it.

New Avengers Annual #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Carlo Pagulayan
Inker: Jeff Huet
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterers: RS & Comicraft's Albert Deschesne
Cover: Jim Cheung

Review: drqshadow
This year's New Avengers Annual has a bit more relevance to it than most. Brian Michael Bendis has introduced a new villainous mastermind over the last few months in the regular New Avengers ongoing, The Hood, and this issue is a direct continuation of his first clash with the team. It's nice to see an annual used as the large-format conclusion to a story that started in the smaller monthly book for a change.

I love what Bendis has done with The Hood; he's a bad guy with a seriously useful power (mystical invisibility) and the balls to bring the fight to the heroes, rather than sitting back and hoping they don't notice him. He's got a sharp wit (don't all of Bendis's characters?) and a great strategic mind, but more importantly — the lower-powered bad guys trust him. They'd go through an awful lot for this guy, clearly, and that makes them a much more serious threat to the Avengers.

Speaking of which, the thing I like best about this team is the way they relate to one other, like one big dysfunctional family in tights. They talk about the things that you always had to assume heroes talked about, but never seemed to happen on the page. When the team returns to Doctor Strange's home, for instance, Wolverine makes a beeline for the kitchen — much to the chagrin of Wong, Strange's longtime manservant. When he complains that Logan destroys the order of his kitchen and physically stands in his way, it says a lot more about both characters than any one-liner in the midst of a superpowered battle royal could.

And, ultimately, those casual, quiet moments where the team is disarmed make the superpowered battle royal that explodes around the middle of this issue (yes, complete with one-liners) twice as jarring and impressive as it would've been otherwise. Those relatable, petty arguments over the state of Wong's kitchen make it clear just how off-guard the heroes are caught by the attack, how serious a fight they're in for. And it's a major fight, too, because once that shoe drops, it's on for the remainder of the issue.

Artist Carlo Pagulayan picks up where Leinil Francis Yu left off in the main book, and he doesn't prove to be a bad a replacement. Pagulayan is a fine artist, but he's taking over from one of the publisher's marquee names, and he just doesn't benefit from the comparison. Where Yu works a very sketchy, action-friendly style, Pagulayan's work is much more detailed, realistic and stationary. He seems to invoke the style of his predecessor for a few panels (notably the pages featuring Jigsaw), but for the most part his artwork is markedly different. His framework can get a bit difficult to follow at times, but he's being asked to jam a whole lot of content into the page at any given time. His compositions are often brilliant, like the panel early in the book where The Hood's gang roughs up Tigra in her own home (again), but his super-busy layouts never really allow the reader's attention to dwell on those spots.

At the end of the day, this is really little more than one long, glorified fight scene, but the writing takes it a step beyond what's usually expected of that kind of book. Not only does the issue tie into the existing arc in New Avengers, it covers ground from a handful of other Marvel books, too —most noteworthy the events surrounding Dr. Strange in World War Hulk. Bendis is a master at weaving these threads together, at compressing the gargantuan Marvel Universe into something that actually seems like it could exist in a single world, and he displays that ability once more here. At the end of the day, he's written better material, worked with better artists and dealt with more entertaining characters, but it's still a very good read. Buy this if you've been following any of the heavy hitters in the Marvel U lately, because it answers a lot of questions and adds depth to a lot of stories. As far as annuals go, it's outstanding.

Ultimate Spider-Man #118
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Stuart Immonen

Review: drqshadow
Ultimate Spider-Man has been rocking and rolling for a long while now, but it's seemed invigorated since the arrival of new regular artist Stuart Immonen. Writer Brian Michael Bendis had been testing the limits of good taste near the end of his monumental run with Mark Bagley, but the new partner in crime may have been the kick he needed to rein in his more off-kilter ideas and return to form. With that said, although I absolutely loved the build-up to the previous storyline, "Death of a Goblin," I found the conclusion to be very rushed and unrewarding.

If you haven't been following the book, what started out as a brilliant interpretation of Norman Osborn on a rampage concluded with a random firefight between the Goblin and his son Harry. When the smoke cleared, the frenzied elder Osborn had beaten his boy to death and, upon realizing what he'd done, asked SHIELD to put him down for good, a request which they obliged. That didn't really sit well with me, and felt like a cheap way to deliver a shock where one wasn't altogether necessary. Both Osborns were a vital part of this series from the get-go, and for them both to be written out of the storyline within two pages of each other felt like highway robbery.

Maybe Bendis understood that a lot of his readers would be thinking along those lines, because he took this issue as an opportunity to really flaunt the cast members that remain and even introduce one or two "new" faces from other books in the line. It's really little more than a getting to know you issue, a chance to further flesh out a series of faces that are already pretty much topnotch. After all the over-the-top theatrics of the previous storyline, an average day at school with Peter, MJ and Kitty is a welcome change of pace and a reminder that these guys are still human.

Bendis is at his best when his characters are just shooting the shit and talking through what's bugging them, and that's what he's doing in this issue. And, when Iceman suddenly enters the equation, the writer continues his trend of doing more for characters borrowed from another book in a back-up role than other writers have done with them as a focal point. He's given so much more depth to Kitty, Bobby and Johnny Storm here than they've ever had in their own books, that it's almost hard to believe they're the same people. You'd never hear Spidey, Iceman and the Torch having a conversation like the one they have on the beach in this issue in another Marvel book, and that's what's always made Ultimate Spider-Man a bit different from its peers.

As an ongoing artist, most titles should be so lucky as to have a regular contributor like Stuart Immonen. This is a guy who came into a tremendously difficult situation, taking over from a popular artist who'd almost become synonymous with the series, and has utterly flourished, to the point that I now actually prefer his work to Bagley's. His artwork is picture perfect, no matter the situation — if the scene is a long, colorful conversation, then he paints the foreground to match the characters' emotions and the background to further emphasize the situation. If it's an action scene, he knocks it right out of the park. When Iceman drops in on Peter and MJ's school on a Friday afternoon, the main characters may have already moved on to another topic, but in the backdrop the faceless student population rushes to marvel at the leftover ice-slide. Immonen has been flawless since his arrival, and this issue is just a continuation.

After a mild letdown last month, Bendis and company have rebounded nicely with this month's story. He's replaced the characters lost last month with new faces, and the book's looking up again. Although he's leading us into something that could be super cheesy next month, if his treatment of the subject this month is any indication, he'll come through with flying colors. Ultimate Spider-Man remains one of my favorite ongoing reads. Buy this if you like good comic books.

Ultimate X-Men #90
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Salvador Larocca
Colorist: Stephane Peru
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover: Salvador Larocca

Review: Dan Toland
According to the recap, the X-Men disbanded, except they haven't. Also, Bishop tried to stop Cable from kidnapping the Professor to train him to fight Apocalypse, while simultaneously working with Cable to prepare to fight Apocalypse.

Yeah.

The main crux of this issue is that Mister Sinister believes that in order to bring back Apocalypse, he has to kill a whole bunch of people. This felt like the Ultimate retelling of the late 1980s "Mutant Massacre" storyline, which was the prelude to "The Fall of the Mutants" — because it can't be an Ultimate Universe X-story unless it's retelling a 20-year-old story. Especially, apparently, a story that was the first clear sign of Claremont beginning to lose his grip on the series. But I digress. Somewhere along the way, it looks like Sinister got his hands on Jesse Custer's Word of God, which makes his mission surprisingly easy.

The characters are all in their teens, rather than in their late 20s and early 30s; otherwise, this feels almost exactly like an in-continuity X-title — an over-written soap opera with too many characters. Cyclops is wearing his Peter Plot-Point pants here, giving about half a page of pure expositional dialog that could have been easily covered in the recap page — which didn't refer to anything that was going on in this issue.
There's zero characterization here; whatever random mutants get sent on the mission just put on their game faces and go off to fight Sinister. I am absolutely at a loss; Robert Kirkman can write. Walking Dead, Marvel Zombies, Irredeemable Ant-Man, Invincible. It doesn't make sense to me that this is the same guy. It's almost like he was given a challenge two days past laundry day: write the issue in 15 minutes, get a free T-shirt. And whoever turned down a free, clean T-shirt two days past laundry day?

I can't really get a handle on the art. Sometimes it looks really clean and moody, with good use of shadowing, action and emotion. Other times it looks clownish and rushed. It's inconsistent, and isn't helped by the poor layout; panels are laid side-by-side with no explanation as to how a character gets from one point to the next. It's very choppy. Also, two of my favorite unintentionally funny moments come from the artwork on Bishop: he looks like he's wearing a George Washington wig. Also, on page 26, something happens, and I'm not going to spoil what, but Bishop looks like he crapped himself. The look on his face could not possibly be what Larocca intended to convey, but I couldn't help but giggle at what was clearly meant to be a powerful and dramatic image. (Of course, sometimes I'm 12.)

The thing I enjoyed most about this issue was the pudding I ate while I read it. Otherwise, this was a totally joyless exercise. If you don't have any pudding to enhance the experience yourself, you would do well to skip this issue. Quickly, before this turns into "Ultimate Inferno," and then there are no winners.

The Zombie: Simon Garth #3
Writer: Kyle Hotz
Artist: Kyle Hotz
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letterer: Joe Caramanga
Cover: Kyle Hotz

Review: Tim Glancy
Zombies in this decade are akin to pouches in the last: they're everywhere. Most popularly, at least commercially, is the Marvel Zombie line. Everyone knows the story by now: a take on what would happen if the Marvel Universe we know and love was turned into a zombie-infested planet of terror. It all started with a crossover in Ultimate Fantastic Four, which led to two miniseries, a one-shot, crossovers with Black Panther and another crossover with Ash from Army of Darkness. The first collection has been so hot as a hardcover, it has never gone to a paperback printing. Walking Dead, by Marvel Zombies writer Robert Kirkman, is one of the most highly touted independent books today. Hell, comic adaptations of both 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead were tremendous sellers, too. No matter how you slice it, zombies are the new big thing in comics.

This makes this series even stranger. The Zombie has flown under the radar for years, and I would rank this up there with any other zombie series being published right now. Simon Garth, the title zombie, made his first appearance in 1953 and is based more on the Southern zombie mythos than what we see in Hollywood nowadays. Despite his birth in the 1950s, he's rarely been used thanks to the archaic Comics Code Authority. However, once Marvel started the mature Marvel MAX line, Simon finally found a home. This new miniseries is a follow-up to that, and continues the previous story.

I am just going to cut to the chase: I enjoyed this book — a lot. First of all, instead of reading some sort of science fiction / action take on zombies, this reads a heck of a lot like a great zombie movie. This isn't so much about the action and big bang moments, but more about the genuine fear and anxiety that a zombie would create. There isn't anyone in a cape shooting lasers out of his ass coming to save the day. This is about real people dealing with utter hell. It's a very interesting and intense take for a comic book to have, and it's quite refreshing.

Kyle Hotz takes a big risk and does a great job with it. He handles the characters very well, and you can feel the panic in every panel. There's the making of a genuinely freaking horror story in these pages; from the shady government agency to the monster to the terrified people, it's all here. There's also a bit of humor. And though you might chuckle now and then, you will never forget about the danger everyone is in.

Art wise, however, Hotz is strictly average. The look can be too cartoony at times, bordering on a joke, and there really aren't enough details when you're looking at faces or action sequences. When the characters are stationary more details come through, but not a lot. I think Hotz really hurts himself here, because at times his artwork took me out of his story. Several panels were extremely unpleasant, and it got worse deeper into the issue.

Still, I enjoyed this. It's different enough from all the other zombie books out there, but the art is average enough to make this a borrow.

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To hear reviews of The Darkness #2, Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #32, Spider-Man: With Great Power... #1, What If? Spider-Man vs. Wolverine and Witchblade #114, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 190.


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